Chess experts make more mistakes when air pollution is high, a study has found.
Experts used computer models to analyse the quality of games played and found that with a modest increase in fine particulate matter, the probability that chess players would make an error increased by 2.1 percentage points, and the magnitude of those errors increased by 10.8%.
The paper, published in the journal Management Science, studied the performance of 121 chess players in three seven-round tournaments in Germany in 2017, 2018, and 2019, comprising more than 30,000 chess moves. The researchers compared the actual moves the players made against the optimal moves determined by the powerful chess engine Stockfish.
In the tournament venues, the researchers attached three web-connected air quality sensors to measure carbon dioxide, PM2.5 concentrations, and temperature. Each tournament lasted eight weeks, meaning players faced a variety of air conditions.
Researchers looked at historical data to see if their findings were replicated, using data from 20 years of games from the first division of the German chess league. After accounting for other causes such as noise, temperature changes and carbon dioxide concentrations, they found air pollution accounted for dips in player performance.
“It’s pure random exposure to air pollution that is driving these people’s performance,” Palacios said. “Against comparable opponents in the same tournament round, being exposed to different levels of air quality makes a difference for move quality and decision quality.”
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